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Boat Types
Different Boat Types

There are many different boat types, from engine powered to manual paddle craft.

A powerboat, also referred to as a motorboat or speedboat, is a boat that is powered by an engine. Some motorboats are fitted with inboard engines, others have an outboard motor installed on the rear, containing the internal combustion engine, the gearbox and the propeller in one portable unit.

The official definition of personal watercraft (PWC) varies from state to state, but they are generally recognized as a vessel which uses an inboard motor powering a water jet pump as its primary source of motive power. The vessels are designed to be operated by a person sitting, standing or kneeling. PWC are manufactured by BRP (Sea-Doo®), Kawasaki (JET SKI®), and Yamaha (WaveRunner®).

Water jet devices (WJD) include JetpaksTM, JetlevsTM, FlyboardsTM, JetovatorsTM, HydroliftTM, and JetsurfTM, and other similar devices where individuals ride a hydro-powered apparatus above the surface of the water while connected to a PWC or other power source that supplies thrust to the WJD through a hose connecting the two devices. When the PWC and WJD devices are connected they are considered to be one vessel.

Canoes, kayaks, standup paddleboards and rafts all belong to the category of manually propelled vessel commonly referred to as paddle craft.

Paddle craft are more vulnerable to capsizing so operators should assess their own boating experience for the type of craft they are using and determine the level of difficulty the waterway presents. Effective trip planning and paddling skills will help. Many different types of Kayaks are manufactured for different uses so one for white water might not be appropriate for ocean use.

Sailboats are powered by sails using the force of the wind. They are differentiated by three distinctive characteristics: 1) hull type (monohull, catamaran or trimaran), 2) keel type (fin keel wing keel, bilge keel, daggerboard, or centerboard), and 3) mast configuration and sails (sloop, fractional rig sloop, ketch, schooner, yawl, cutter, cat).

Best Practices

Read BoatBeat’s General Best Practices, in addition to the following tips, for more recommendation and information.

  • Boat Description: Provide a basic description of the type of boat. For example, introduce what a “flyboard” is, as they are relatively new technology.
  • Reference State Laws: Note canoes and kayaks are not required to be registered in many states, and it’s helpful for boaters to at least have ID decals to aid in rescue operations.
  • Paddleboard Safety Equipment: Identify if a “strap” used by standup paddleboarders was actually a leash; intended to keep the boater and the standup paddleboard together. The leash is sometimes used as an alternative to wearing a life jacket, however a life jacket should always be worn.
  • Personal Watercraft: Discuss importance aspects of operating a personal watercraft (PWC).
    • Dangers of both the jet stream and the danger of personal watercraft (PWC) sucking in hair or clothing at a fast rate. PWC have reduced protection commonly resulting in extremity injuries.
    • A common type of accident for PWC is operating in close proximity and the danger of crossing or jumping the wake of another vessel. This does not allow personal watercraft operators the ability to see potential hazards on the opposite side of the boat that is creating the wake.
    • Danger of following so close you do not have time to react if the person in front slows of stops.
    • Note if the operator was riding the PWC recklessly with a small child in front of him. This is illegal in many states. Learn more about state laws and contact state Boating Law Administrators at

Fact Sheets

Power Boat Types and Uses

Personal Watercraft and Water Jet Devices

Paddle Craft Types and Uses

Sail Boat Types and Uses

Browse All Fact Sheets

Expert Sources

U.S. Coast Guard, Office of Auxiliary & Boating Safety

National Safe Boating Council (NSBC)

National Association of State Boating Law Administrators (NASBLA)

American Canoe Association

American Sailing Association

United States Sailing Association

National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA)

Personal Watercraft Industry Association

Browse Federal and State Point-of-Contacts


Case Study Sources